Saturday, 21 September 2013

Random Furnishings

During my last visit to my folks, we'd discussed an expedition into the Dark Unknown of the loft, in search of the furniture that had once occupied the rooms of the dolls house. When next I spoke to them on the phone, my mother had already been up in the loft and had retrieved the majority of the furniture in a couple of old ice cream tubs.

Aside from some of it being a bit dusty and dirty due to long storage in what seems to have been open containers, most of the stuff is in pretty good condition... but it's not exactly consistent. We have plastic items bought in shops, wooden items bought in other shops, some decent-looking 'upholstered' furniture, some lovingly hand-made stuff from one of the grandmothers, and some seriously cheap-looking plastic crap...
The bathroom suite, a strange 'chocolate and caramel' colourscheme, just had
to be seen 'in situ' to fully reveal its true horror. There was even a toilet roll
holder and little plastic cylinder wrapped in paper masquerading as the bog roll.
This is decent quality stuff... though the toilet lid and seat are a bit floppy.
Interesting features of this kitchen furniture: the tap on the sink is made of
metal and joins the worktop with a ball joint, so it can be very freely moved.
The washing machine has a geared drum - rotate the wheel on the side
(just about visible on the far left of the photo) and the drum will turn.
The oven... opens..? Not much of interest in there, to be honest.
The TV is an interesting bit of kit... The bulk of it is a hollowed out  block of
wood, with the front, back and stand made of plastic. The picture is a print
on paper which was lit by a tiny bulb passed through the back. Unfortunately
it was only held in place by sellotape, which had dried up and fallen off.
We did find the cable, plug and bulb, though, so we're going to 'upgrade' it.
Here we have the terribly crappy, cheap plastic furniture that really doesn't fit the
rest if the stuff we have... I mean, the wardrobe has drawers, certainly (one is missing!)
but the doors are solid, and it's hollow at the back! The bunk beds don't exactly
leave much headroom for the lower bunk, either...
A mixture of the wooden furniture, some of it more impressive than the rest.
Some of the drawers open, while others are fixed. The sideboard, for example
is all glued together. Interestingly, the book rack on top of it is filled with
tiny books which one can flick through. There's no print, obviously, but
it's a cool feature for a dolls' house nonetheless.
The 'upholstered' lounge suite has seen better days - compression in storage
means the cushions are at odd angles.
And, good grief, there was even a piano! The lid was once attached by a
rubber band, but that has long since perished and crumbled away. Might
be difficult to replace, too, since it was glued into place underneath a
of bits of wood on the interior. It's also lost its pedals but, in all other
respects, its in fairly good condition.
And in this cute little cot rests a little plastic baby, wrapped in (and glued into)
a little night dress. The face has become squashed and distorted (or maybe
it was always like that?) so it looks particularly ugly.
This bed and the duvet were hand-made by one of the grandmothers.
The duvet is perhaps a little large, but it was hand-knitted with some very
nice wool, and is in excellent condition. The bed is slightly warped, but still
looks pretty good... and, as you can see, it fits the existing figures well.
Along with this rather random treasure trove of proper furniture, there were all kinds of odd little plastic bits from the kitchen, a small miscellany of china and metal pots, kettles, vases, etc... and a truly bizarre selection of 'pets' - two china dogs, some (plastic?) cats made in varying degrees of realism, a couple of wooden mice, and even a plastic squirrel that had once been a pencil top.

We also found the whole family who had once 'lived' there, but I shall spare you photos of those, gentle reader... Naturally they're a little worse for age and wear, but they're also just plain weird. The 'parents' have gangly, barely humanoid bodies with large heads and tiny, chubby hands. The 'kids' don't scale very well, possibly because they came from different lines of dolls' house people, and they're painted in a rather disturbing way.

I'm not sure how much of this existing furniture - if any - will survive this refurbishment. I know we're going to try to fix up the TV and give it a new picture, and some of the stuff is in a good enough condition... but it might be more interesting to minimise the furniture and see how the niece wants to fill the place up.

Friday, 13 September 2013

And so, the work begins...

Having heard that my folks had brought the dolls' house downstairs to a more useful and accessible location, and got their hands on some wooden windows for the dolls' house, I decided to pop over yesterday to snap a few photos and ask some questions. Upon arrival, however, I discovered my father was already hard at work, stripping the paper from the roof...

We spoke briefly about the decorating options, and how best to make use of the material and templates for creating brick and roof tile effects. The supplied templates remind me strangely of the keyboard overlays we had for our rubber-keyed ZX Spectrum, are of a size that they don't actually fit any of the papered 'wall' areas of the house - they're too long for the side quarters and too short for the longer front door - so we'll have to trim them down and do lots of matching. The idea is that you stick them in place with a temporary spray glue (which cannot be sold online as it can't be put in the post!), plaster on the brick/roof tile compound mixed with water, wait for it to dry, then peel it off and do the next section. It's likely to be a rather laborious process... and, just to make it even more laborious (while hopefully improving the end result), I suggested that we might fill out the exterior walls with the 'sandstone' compound so that they're flush with the black-painted frame, giving us a background for the brick pattern which would look like cement... though we may end up just using a matte paint to fill in the lines. A larger template is favoured for the roof, to minimise all the fiddling and matching, so we may have to keep looking...

The general consensus seems to be that painting the interior is preferable to repapering. One room seemed to be in a fit state to leave as-is, until a closer inspection revealed that the four screws holding the wall in place were visible through holes in the paper.

This revelation led to the further revelation that, where there are electrical fittings, such as the switches, the floors and walls are screwed in place. This is both exciting and useful, and it also showed that my father was more sensible than even he'd expected during the original construction project, 30-ish years ago. He'd also forgotten about the larger rods of wood he'd used to separate the floors and ceilings, and into which they're screwed. Many of his darker predictions about the difficulty of this refurbishment came from the belief that everything was glued together, so taking it apart would result in some breakage. The use of screws almost everywhere is very good news.

While talking about painting, we discussed the specifics of the staircase, which is actually a pretty brilliant piece of construction. The stairs themselves are cut from a single piece of wood, and there's a full bannister running up all the way to the landing, where it meets a safety rail - because you don't want your dolls falling down the stairs, do you? After joking about carpeting the staircase and adding little brass bits to keep the carpet in place, my father asked if I fancied the prospect of painting the staircase - the impression I got was that he wasn't especially keen to do it himself. After a closer examination, I accepted the challenge, adding only that it might be a bit easier if the ceiling/floor could come out... But I reckon it's perfectly doable even if the house remains intact throughout the painting phase.

My mother suggested that the gaps between the ceilings/floors should be covered over, as a certain four-year-old has a habit of 'inserting things into other things', her nose being the currently-favoured recipient of things. Kids, eh?

But I mentioned windows, didn't I?

Whereas there was a special offer on doors when my mother ordered four earlier in the month, there was no such offer on windows, so more caution has been exercised in this case. We currently have a pair of 'single' windows and a single 'double' window, just to see how they might fit, and to ascertain the potential usefulness of any properly-scaled items we might buy in the future. The windows aren't precisely the same type and, while I suspect the 'single' type would be sufficient for all the side windows, the existing holes are too wide... so either we'd need to fill them in, or go with larger windows.

The fact that the 'double' windows are 9-pane, versus the 4-pane 'single' means they don't quite work together, but other options are available or, failing that, we may be able to custom-make something suitable. Even if it's just a case of knocking out parts of the frame to make the 'doubles' into 2-pane windows (one from 6 panes, the other from the remaining 3, either horizontally or vertically), it shouldn't be too problematic.

By the time I left, all but one end of the roof had been stripped of paper... though whether this means we get to work on 'tiling' as soon as it's all stripped, or wait until the project is nearing completion, only time will tell...

For the most part, I think we're all feeling quite positive about this project still, though the expense of all the parts - eighteen windows, just for starters - is cause for some concern, and it's entirely possible that we'll end up filling in the eight side windows. They are something of an extravagance, but I reckon they really add to the place...

The viability - and wisdom - of allowing the roof to open was also discussed briefly... On the one hand, it gives us the option of another room/storage area... on the other hand, it's going to have a moody four year old playing with it (possibly five year old, before we're finished!), which could lead to slamming the roof, or slamming her fingers in the roof, or yanking the roof off its hinges, or God knows what other shenanigans. The same could be said for the hinged front and back walls of the house, so watch this space... There's not much more planning going into this refurbishment project than there was for the original build!

Wednesday, 11 September 2013

Adding Texture...

The outside of the dolls' house comes up for discussion just as often as the inside. Right at the start, I suggested that we replace the 'roof tile'-patterned paper on the roof with some kind of proper tiling (most likely plastic sheets of ready-molded tiles). By and large, the preference has been simply stripping the current (peeling) paper, inside and out, and replacing it with more of the same, though I've often wondered if painting (at least for the interior) might be the better option.

More recently, however, my mother has found materials available on the interwebs which are mixed with water and applied to exterior walls via a stencil to give a realistic brick effect. How something like this will work with the 'framed' exterior walls of this dolls' house remains to be seen... but it certainly has potential. We may need to give it an undercoat of some kind to represent the cement between the bricks. A similar kind of thing is available for stencilling roof tiles, too... and that certainly beats faffing around with blocks, strips or individual tiles.

Plus, on the whole, they all look like better options than gluing anything to the external walls, since even the best glue isn't foolproof or everlasting... and, in the hands of a four-year-old, things glued-on have an amazing knack for coming loose...

Not sure if this is the particular website my mother was looking at, but here are examples of the exterior finishes...

Thursday, 5 September 2013

Considering Doors

Not much of an update, but news all the same: in between domestic disasters of a slightly larger scale, my folks have been looking into doors for the dolls' house.

With some web-searching, they found Minimum World, 'The Online Dolls House Superstore', who had some kind of special offer on doors, so they ordered a set of 1:12 scale Streets Ahead "Collector's Item" wooden dolls' house doors.

The dolls' house wasn't built to any particular scale - and certainly isn't 1:12, as it turns out. Straight out of the packaging, the doors go right up to the ceiling on the ground floor (18.1cm/7.1" room height), and are about an inch too tall on the upper floor (16.1cm/6.3" room height) - but the more elaborate 'front door' could be made to work if cut down slightly. Such trimming would be tricky, but by no means impossible, due to the way the door is pinned into the frame.

Alternatively, now we've seen how they work, my father might end up making something at a more suitable size, and attaching them with miniature hinges. There was some discussion about the relative scale of hinges, with my father of the opinion that the smallest available hinges would be too large for the dolls' house, and me of the opinion that it's a dolls' house, and should be viewed as if through the eyes of a child, who wouldn't notice or care about such points of accuracy and authenticity as long as the doors open and close. I think this is one of those times we're going to agree to disagree until we have time to experiment...

Also, the question of interior doors was posed. Sure, having them would make the house even more realistic... but they'd be a bit of an extravagance and could actually have a negative impact on play, since a fairly large area of each room would need to be kept clear to allow the doors to swing, and an open door would obscure a good chunk of each room.

Whatever happens, the new doors (and windows) need to be larger than the tiny plastic things that were originally installed!